Pyrros was a rather simple village located in the midst of a vast desert land that expanded to unknown lengths. It was believed by the people of Pyrros that the desert simply went on without end. Many had attempted the journey to reach the end of the desert, but no one who ventured out to measure its lengths had ever survived the deadly journey.
To the north of Pyrros village, separated by miles of sand, stood the distant Nethergreen Mountain; it looked like nothing more than a pinprick on the horizon. At the village center was the Amarathe, a rather large pool of teal water that reflects brilliantly night and day like a mirror. This pool of water was essentially the life source of Pyrros, earning it the nickname of ‘the lifeline’. Without the cool water that flowed up from the ground to keep the pool full, nothing could survive.
There were roughly 400 homes that spiraled around the Amarathe. The houses were all very similar in appearance; each with cream-colored stucco exteriors, the house number painted on the door, and a palm tree planted in the small front yard for shade. The homes were just barely large enough to house a family of four; typically two children, a mother, and a father. In some cases however, there were less than four per home due to the unforgiving nature of the Pyrros climate, the limited amounts of food and water, and the lack of medicine available. Of the Three Realms of Trithera, Pyrros was the most difficult realm to thrive in, and it was quite rare for anyone to live past the age of forty.
About half a mile from the gray stone-lined shore of the Amarathe stood house 232. This house was the home of a seventeen-year-old girl named Ember Crane and her four-year-old sister, Emory. I am Ember Crane, and this is my story.
My sister and I moved into house 232 from house 27 about a year ago to live with our Aunt Leyla. We had no other options; our mother passed away shortly after Emory was born and our father went missing just over a year ago. Our sweet, beautiful mother died due to complications of childbirth shorty after giving birth, and little Emory was lucky to have survived. As for our father, he chose his fate after he gave his life away to a lost cause.
Our father, a once lively and kind man, was never quite the same after the death of his wife and he became distant and lost in his grief.
Several weeks before Emory’s third birthday, our father joined a group of men in an expedition to search for the desert’s end. While these men were hopeful and certain they would return with answers, my father knew he was walking to his death and gladly obliged. He walked out on his two daughters that day; in his brokenness, he never returned from the desert.
The sound of a young child screaming in anger rang throughout the small home of 232, echoing throughout the village.
“I just can’t seem to figure out what she wants today! No matter what I do, Emory is never happy!” Aunt Leyla shouted in frustration.
I could tell by the way Emory was throwing a fit that Aunt Leyla was trying to get her to eat her breakfast. Although I really didn’t want to go and try to help my aunt, I felt sorry for her desperation.
“I’ll be there in a second!” I shouted back from our small front yard, “I am checking on the garden!”
Under the shade of the palm tree, I had tried to plant a garden. With the sandy soil in Pyrros, it was very difficult for anything to grow. However, I found that if you are lucky enough, with a raised bed and some compost you can grow yourself a couple plants in this desert wasteland.
I was trying to grow a fruit tree from the seed of a small, expensive red fruit I had found at the marketplace several months ago. It is a wonderfully sweet and delicate fruit called a Cynderblossom. It had the appearance of a fiery red-orange apple with light blue spines on its skin—similar to that of a pineapple. The fruit has been the most exotic and extraordinary crop in the Pyrros marketplace, and despite its raging popularity among the villagers, no one truly knows where this fruit is imported from, or how.
Any imported goods we receive are like magic, and when they appear (although they seldom do) they always appear in crates by the Amarathe. I have always found this occurrence very strange, but no one else seems to question where the imports came from.
I ran back into the house to see my aunt kneeling on the floor next to Emory who is proudly standing on the dining room chair.
“What are you doing on the floor?” I asked.
“Oh, I am just doing what I love most…cleaning up after YOUR sister who decided to dump her entire breakfast on the floor!” Aunt Leyla responded in a sarcastic tone.
Emory giggled as she looked up at me and threw her cup of water on the floor purely out of spite. The water, however, didn’t actually land on the floor; a majority of it splashed right on Aunt Leyla’s head, flattening her beautifully curled hair.
“I can’t take this anymore! I just need a break…at least for an hour. I have never met a child who is as difficult to please as you are, Emory Crane! It’s a wonder you haven’t starved to death!” I could tell my aunt had just about enough of Emory’s tactics for one day.
“I can take her with me for a walk if you’d like, maybe that would tire her out and give her an appetite. I need to refill our water jars for the garden anyway.” I said softly in hopes I wouldn’t anger her further.
“You and that silly tree...” she sighed, “but by all means, be my guest! Take this precious nightmare of a child with you… I just swear she hates me because she is an angel for you!” Aunt Leyla huffed as she folded her arms in bewilderment of my sister’s behavior.
Before Leyla became any angrier, I scooped up Emory who then squealed in delight. We headed outside to grab the water jars.
“Do you want to ride in the wagon today, or be a big girl and walk?” I asked Emory as she stood there smiling.
“Me big girl! Me walk like you!” she exclaimed excitedly as she jumped up and down. I swear she has too much energy, even for a child her age!
“Okay, you can walk with me like a big girl, but you have to promise me you will behave and stay close to me, okay?” I questioned.
“I pwomise...” Emory sighed back in response as she bent down and grabbed a small stone that had caught her attention.
Emory always has taken a rock with her whenever we visit the lifeline; she liked to see the ripples on the surface of the glass-like waters when she tossed the stone. I grabbed the two empty jars and loaded them both into the wagon, and we headed to the town center to visit the Amarathe. We were about halfway there when I heard Emory’s soft voice.
“I tired Emmer…” she sighed as I turned around to see her sitting on the sandy path, using the rock she found to draw scribbles in the sand.
“I thought you were going to be a big girl today? I brought both jars because you wanted to walk, so the wagon is full, Emory,” I sighed, but I should have known better than to let her walk the whole way.
She looked at me with the cutest little eyes and raised her arms above her head to see if I would carry her.
“Up?” she asked politely.
“No Emory,” I rolled my eyes in annoyance. “I don’t think I can carry you and pull the wagon at the same time, so you have to be a big girl. C’mon, we are almost there! Don’t you want to throw your rock in the water?”
She looked down at the rock she had in her hand, stood up, and ran to catch up to me—giggling the entire time.
“That’s what I thought! Let’s go, and next time you can ride in the wagon!” I laughed, thankful that I didn’t have to carry her.
On our way to the town center, we passed house number 27. It has been vacant since the day Emory and I moved out to live with Aunt Leyla. Seeing the house triggered memories I would rather have forgotten. Our old house sat there frozen in time, and from the outside it looked almost exactly how we had left it.
“It looks just the same as the day we left” I muttered to Emory, whose young memory didn’t seem to remember as many things about house #27.
“Daddy home?” Emory asked as she ran towards the house in hopes that her father had returned from what she thought was a vacation.
At her young age, she didn’t fully understand what he chose; she couldn’t comprehend that her daddy was never coming back from his journey.
It took me by surprise as she ran towards our old house; she had never done this before, and we have walked by our old house hundreds of times. Today was different, but maybe that was because she usually rode in the wagon when we went to town.
I called out after her before she reached the house. I wasn’t sure if it was still safe for her to go inside, or if the house had dilapidated any in the year it was vacant. The Pyrros climate was harsh on any building, and a house left without anyone to care for it quickly fell to pieces.
“Come back, Emory! Daddy’s not home…” I said.
She stopped for a brief moment to look back at me before continuing off towards our house.
“No! Don’t…” I called out, but it was too late.
Emory was already opening the door by the time I dropped the wagon handle and ran after her. The house was dark and sandy, and it was clear that no one had lived here in quite some time.
“Where are you, Emory? We have to get water, and Aunt Leyla will be worried if we don’t come home soon!” I called out and waited for a response.
I heard nothing in reply and started to search for her, but I couldn’t find her. I checked the kitchen, the living area, and our old rooms, but she wasn’t there. I checked my parents’ room last, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I found her sitting on the bed holding an envelope in her tiny hand.
“What is that? Where did you find that?” I asked, pointing at the envelope.
“Mine! From Daddy, see!?” she pointed to a handwritten line on the front of the envelope.
I picked up the envelope to examine it and found that the envelope was not addressed to Emory. The handwriting didn’t look familiar; it was written in a script far more elegant than anything handwriting I had seen in Pyrros.
“Read to me, pwease?” she asked sweetly and all I could see was the sadness in her eyes.
Before I had the chance to answer her, I realized who the letter was addressed to: Miss Ember Crane. I had no idea who could have written me a letter, so I opened it out of curiosity. Inside the envelope was a discolored paper that looked so old, but it was dated for that day. There were no traces of anyone being here other than Emory and I, and I wondered how it could have gotten there.
“Emmer, read pwease…” she asked again, this time a little more impatient than the last.
I didn’t know what to tell her.
In spite of what she believed, the letter wasn’t from Dad; it wasn’t addressed to her either. I racked my brain trying to come up with something I could tell her that wouldn’t give her false hope or crush her spirit.
“It’s too dark in here, Emory. Let’s go outside where I can read it better,” I bought myself some time to come up with something.
Emory sat there for a few seconds running her hands up and down the red blanket that had been spread across Dad’s bed.
“Okay…” she sighed as she climbed of the bed and made her way over to the dresser where Dad used to keep his clothes and special things.
I sat back silently and watched her as she opened up a small drawer on the right side of the dresser. Emory dug around for a few moments before she pulled out a small book; it was the book our dad would read us at night about a bear cub discovering honey for the first time. With the book was a small wooden carving our dad made of the bear cub. He had told me just before he left that it was a present for Emory’s third birthday. He never got around to finishing the bear, let alone being there on her birthday to give it to her.
“Can me take this home pwease?” she asked as she held up the book and the bear.
“Yeah, of course. Let’s get our of here...” I sighed in sadness. How could a father who seemed to care so much just up and leave his daughters like that?
We made our way outside and Emory placed the book in the wagon. She kept the small bear in her arms, hugging it tightly to her chest, and walked silently beside me as I held her hand. She gazed down at the little wooden bear the entire time we walked. It seemed to have taken her mind off the letter, so I didn’t bring it up.
“Why did Daddy go?” she asked me as she fought back her tears.
“I don’t know, Emmy…I don’t know…” I wasn’t sure what else I could possibly tell her, and hoped no more questions would be asked as we continued along on our journey to the Amarathe.
Something seemed out of place when we reached the town center. All of the little shops were closed, and there wasn’t a single person to be seen around the Amarathe. Normally there were at least several other people here at all times; the lifeline was always busy, making today a strange occurrence.
I looked around to see if we were truly the only ones in the area, and I didn’t see a soul. I decided it would be best if I filled the water jars and headed home as quickly as possible.
As we approached the Amarathe I realized that today had been a rather unusual day, and as the day progressed it became increasingly more so. Emory, on the other hand, thought very little of everything that had been happening; she was too busy making her little bear splash around along the shoreline of the Amarathe.
I grabbed the two jars from the wagon and brought them over to the filling station that consisted of a tall water spout and pump.
“Stay right there, Emory. I am just going to fill these up quick and then we can go back home,” I instructed.
She didn’t say anything in response, but continued playing with the bear in the water.
“Okay, so it seems everything is a little out-of-the-ordinary today…even my little sister.” I mumbled to myself as I began the arduous task of pumping water into the jars, one jar at a time.
I began to think about the letter that Emory found on my dad’s bed, and it was almost scary to think someone was in the house probably moments before we were. They could have even been there at the same time we were, hiding patiently out of sight.
I became engrossed in my thoughts for quite some time as I tried to figure out who the mysterious letter could possibly be from. Pyrros was a small enough village to the point where people don’t write letters to each other; it was easier to walk over and tell them in person.
Eventually I was brought out of my thoughts and back into reality when I heard the sound of water splashing on the bricks below me. I’d become so lost in thought that the jars had overflown; for some time now, I had been pumping water into the jars only to have it splash down on the ground. Thankfully, no one was there to witness the way I wasted water. I imagined it would have caused an uproar if someone would have seen how much water I wasted.
I put the lids back on the jars and loaded them into the wagon so Emory and I could head back to Aunt Leyla’s house. We had been gone longer than usual, so I imagined Aunt Leyla was a bit worried.
I looked over towards the shore where I had last seen Emory, but all that remained near the water’s edge was her little wooden bear and the small rock she brought to throw in the water. My hands began to shake as panic rushed over me as I sprinted towards the bear.
Emory has never wandered off before, and now she was gone.
“Emory! Where are you?!” I called out repeatedly as loud as my voice could go.
I ran along the perimeter of the Amarathe in hopes that she had wandered over to the other side, but still I found no one. There were no footprints in the sand leading away from her spot along the shore, but there were none leading into the water either. All I could see was one-way prints to the place she had been sitting, the rock, and the bear…nothing else.
I began to think the worst as I looked closer at the surface of the water. The surface of the Amarathe was motionless; a sheet of glass that mirrored the image of the world above it.
I knelt down in the sand to pick up both Emory’s bear and the rock. I stood there and studied them in my hands, unsure of what else to do.
Out of sheer frustration, I screamed and threw the rock across the surface of the water. The ripples that usually formed when Emory and I skipped rocks were absent and it appeared as if the rock was sliding across a sheet of glass. I reached out to touch the water, and just like the rock, my hand couldn’t penetrate the surface.
I knew nothing about most of the events that had happened that day, but I knew three things for certain: my sister was gone, someone greater than us played a role in the happenings of today, and my life was becoming stranger and stranger.
I placed the bear in my coat pocket as I grabbed the wagon and rushed home as fast as my legs could carry me. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, but somehow I knew Emory wasn’t in Pyrros any longer.
I had to figure out why.